Tesla co-founder and CEO Elon Musk on Monday assailed a recent New York Times article detailing problems with the range of the company’s Model S sedan.
The article, published over the weekend, was a first-person account of a drive from Washington, D.C., to Connecticut along Interstate 95. Tesla operates two Supercharging stations along this route, which the company says will allow owners to easily travel 440 miles from D.C. to Boston without running out of juice.
But the trip was anything but easy, wrote Times writer John Broder in a story headlined, “Stalled Out on Tesla’s Electric Highway.” With the temperature in the 30s for much of his trip, Broder tells of having to shut off the car’s heat and drive 11 miles under the speed limit to make it from the first charging station to the second.
Cold weather is known to reduce the ability of batteries to hold a charge in all electric cars, not just Telsa’s Model S, a luxury sedan.
The next day the temperature dropped, and so did the car’s range, Broder wrote. It ultimately wound up on the back of a flatbed truck.
In response, Musk charged that the Times’ piece was a lie.
“NYTimes article about Tesla range in cold is fake,” Musk tweeted Monday in response. “Vehicle logs tell true story that he didn’t actually charge to max & took a long detour.”
Musk clarified his point in an interview on CNBC.
“We think the article is something of a setup, and it’s pretty unreasonable,” Musk told the network’s Maria Bartiromo.
The Times stands by the piece. It issued a statement in response to Musk’s allegations, saying its article was “completely factual.”
“Any suggestion that the account was ‘fake’ is, of course, flatly untrue,” the statement said.
Musk contends data downloaded from the test car after it was returned to Tesla shows that Broder hadn’t fully charged the car, took “an extended detour” and was driving above the speed limit. “When you drive really fast, the range decreases,” Musk said.
This was in line with our recent experience. When Highway 1 tested the Model S, our lead-footed driving produced a range of just 160 miles on a single charge. That compares with an EPA-estimated range of 265 miles and the company’s claims of 300 miles.
When asked whether he thought this was a deliberate setup by the Times, Musk paused. “You never know in these things. I would say it’s more likely than not,” he said.
Musk conceded to CNBC that he was worried the Times piece could damage his brand. Investors, meanwhile, had already noticed. Tesla shares on NASDAQ saw one of the biggest single-day declines since December; shares closed down 2.1%.
The overall financial health of Tesla remains unknown at the moment. The company is tight-lipped about production of the Model S as well as the company’s overall solvency. The picture will be much clearer later in February, when Tesla announces its 2012 sales results.